Herman Meurs, professor of Immunopharmacology, Molecular Pharmacology group of GRIP, received the 2015 Joseph R. Rodarte Award for Scientific Distinction. The award was presented on May 18 at the annual RSF Assembly Membership Meeting at the American Thoracic Society (ATS) International Conference in Denver. The award is the highest level of distinction awarded by the Respiratory Structure and Function Assembly of the ATS.
Herman Meurs is the first European scientist to receive this prestigious award.
Herman Meurs is a enthusiastic pharmacologist, a translational researcher avant-lalettre, who dedicated his career to the understanding of airway hyperresponsiveness in asthma with key discoveries relevant to asthma pharmacotherapy today. Moreover, Herman Meurs has been a mentor of many PhD students who are currently active as postdocs, lecturers and professors in respiratory research all over the world. The prestigious Rodarte award is a crown on his successful scientific career.
Airway hyperresponsiveness in asthma is the main research theme to which Herman Meurs devoted his career, reflected in >160 peer-reviewed research papers to this date. He started his PhD studies in 1980 on the role of the ß2 adrenergic system in airway hyperresponsiveness in asthma and was one of the first to discover the regulation of immune cell functions by ß 2 adrenoceptor agonists and the desensitization of these receptors in asthma. In his earlier work, he observed that ß 2 adrenoceptors desensitized in asthma patients after allergen challenge and unraveled the molecular mechanisms underlying this response, which was found largely dependent on PKC activation. This so-called heterologous ß 2 adrenoceptor desensitization is equally important in muscarinic receptor- ß 2 adrenoceptor cross-talk, which was one of the main research themes of his research in the 90s, and still relevant today as long-acting ß -agonist plus long-acting anticholinergic combination therapy finds its rationale in exactly these fundamental pharmacological mechanisms.
His work on the muscarinic receptor in asthma and COPD has additional facets as he was the first to characterize the muscarinic receptor (M3 receptor) subtypes involved in airway smooth muscle contraction, in phosphoinositide metabolism and in inhibition of ß 2 adrenergic relaxation in airway smooth muscle in the late 80s and early 90s. Around 10 years later, this research line revived with major discoveries on the regulation of inflammation and remodeling by muscarinic receptors and the consequent inhibition by anticholinergics. These findings have been key to the rationale for clinical trials investigating the actions of long-acting anticholinergics in asthma leading to the registration of long-acting anticholinergics for asthma by the FDA last year.
In the mid-90s, Herman Meurs extended his research to the role of non-adrenergic non-cholinergic regulation of airway hyperresponsiveness, for which he developed a guinea pig model of asthma using instrumented, conscious, freely-moving guinea pigs enabling real-time recording of airway hyperresponsiveness, and of the early and late asthmatic reactions. This unique model has been the basis for an overwhelming number of project grants from government, charities and industry, and is extensively used for pharmacological research to this date. Using this model, he unraveled the role of nitric oxide and tachykinins in airway hyperresponsiveness. His discovery that the enzyme arginase, which competes with NO synthase for the common substrate 1-arginine, is upregulated in asthma and limits the availability of bronchodilating nitric oxide marks one of the key discoveries in his career. This patented finding is the basis of a current collaborative drug discovery program for arginase inhibitors with industry for which he recently obtained a major program grant.
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